China's first environmental protection tax law, which went into effect on Monday, got off to a slow start as companies and local governments sought to pin down key details in implementing the sweeping legislation.
The law has been hailed as an integral part of the country's determined fight against pollution and broader effort to tackle environmental issues, but the implementation of the complex law is taking time, interviews with companies and local officials showed on Wednesday.
While some companies and local governments have scrambled to implement the new law, others are still waiting for further details such as tax rates. Some even claim they haven't heard of the law at all.
"We haven't heard about any environmental protection law yet," an executive of Hebei Like Textile Co in Dongguang county, North China's Hebei Province, told the Global Times on Wednesday. The executive, who only gave her surname as Guo, said that the company would study the specifics once they receive the information.
A manager with Hebei-based Zhengda Glass Co, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that she was not aware of the tax but maintained that her company would definitely comply with it.
Companies in Hebei are usually quick to adjust to regulations regarding environmental issues because they are often targeted in temporary pollution control measures, given their close proximity to Beijing. The fact that many don't even seem aware of the law signals it will take some time to implement it.
In Southwest China's Sichuan Province, the provincial government has published details of the law and started implementation, but some companies and lower-level governments were not informed of the details.
"I think we have started to implement the law, but I don't really know the details. I haven't heard much about this specific law, even though we have been focusing a lot on environmental protection recently," an official at the Sichuan provincial environmental protection department told the Global Times on Wednesday.
The official, who requested anonymity as she was not authorized to speak to the media, stressed that environmental protection is a top priority of the provincial government.
Nie Xiaolin, who owns a construction business in Sichuan, told the Global Times on Wednesday that he has been hearing about tough environmental regulations that are on the way, and that the company could face high fines for violating such regulations.
"But I didn't know there was going to be a tax," he said.
The implementation process could be a challenge because the law is very complex, and it requires local governments to determine specific details such as tax rates, experts said.
Many details are still unclear, including the specific tax rates and how the central and provincial governments will divide the tax revenue, according to Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University.
For example, rates for each region and industry haven't been clarified yet, Lin told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Under the environmental protection tax law, which targets enterprises and public institutions that discharge listed pollutants directly into the environment, the central government will set ceilings for tax rates but allow local governments to determine the specific rates, according to a report the Xinhua News Agency published on Monday.
Also, as an incentive to local governments to implement the law, the central government will share the tax revenue with local governments, the Xinhua report said. But no specifics have been announced yet.
Though the implementation process might be slow, the government is determined to enforce the law and further measures could be anticipated this year to ensure the successful implementation of the law, Lin said, explaining that it is an important part of the ongoing fight against pollution, and it is the central government's top priority.
Executives at several companies also said that they are ready to comply with the law, and they don't think it will create a financial burden.
"We will comply with the environmental protection law and it won't have a big impact on our company nor impose an extra burden on us [because] we have been doing well in terms of environmental protection," Qingdao Haixi Heavy-duty Machinery Co told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Tiremaker Doublestar Group in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province also said that it is still assessing the environmental protection law but the company has already started to take measures to reduce discharge of pollutants and noise.